A child on a battlefield. An old man contemplating the end of his life. And a twelfth century party with an electric guitar and a tank?
When a field full of “hand mines,” a sky full of frozen planes and a matter-of-fact “Cutting to the chase, not dead, back, big surprise” are means-to-an-end moments rather than main events, that indicates a level of confidence and ambition that bodes well for the new season of Doctor Who.
This fast yet pensive, quirky yet melancholy start to the season weaved together all of Doctor Who’s favourite themes – the dehumanisation of war; the consequences of compassion or the lack thereof; the symbiotic relationship the Doctor has with his oldest enemies, that type of thing – while also bringing back the Doctor’s favourite nemeses in the form of the Daleks, Missy and his own guilt.
If you’d asked me beforehand how I’d feel about Missy and the Daleks coming back, I wouldn’t have been very enthusiastic – I dislike the former, and I think the latter have somewhat outstayed their welcome – and would have pointed out that continually resurrecting characters who are supposed to have died renders every life-or-death battle they have with the Doctor from thereon in a little less meaningful and a lot less effective. However, this week’s intricate, thoughtful, intelligent story won me over nonetheless. Davros and the Daleks are really the only characters who could be used to do it justice, and Missy’s annoying traits were at least kept to a mildly-irritating minimum. I was surprised by how high the stakes were, how good “The Magician’s Apprentice” actually was and how much I genuinely enjoyed it. Based on past experience, I’m a little apprehensive that Part Two may have to wrap up the story with some screwdriver-waving, “bish-bosh, everything’s fine now” glibness but never mind that just now. I was really impressed with Part One.